Where are our core emotional drives located in our brain?

If there is one meme that occurs in the Emotional Intelligence world it is that the centre of our emotional drives is in the limbic system and in particular the amygdala. This Youtube video and others on the same page are typical examples of the meme in action. The Amydala Hijack was first popularised by Daniel Goleman in his defining book Emotional Intelligence.

There have been some dissenting views including this blog by yours truly. One question raised in the blog still holds: While it is easy to see that the various sciences: biology, chemistry, geology, physics, mathematics, etc., are products of the rational neo-cortex brain it is difficult to see how the arts: poems, novels, plays, dances, paintings, etc., are products of the amygdala. I can understand how the fight or flight response is generated there but not vast range of artistic creations

Finally I have read a neuroscience paper that supports the countervailing view. The paper is Distributed neural system for emotional intelligence revealed by lesion mapping and the authors are Aron K. Barbey, Roberto Colom, and Jordan Grafman. To quote from the paper: “Together with cognitive intelligence, emotional and social intelligence form important components of general intelligence. One of the major differences between the two is that the former is thought to relate primarily to higher order mental processes like reasoning, while the latter focuses more on perceiving, immediate processing and applying emotional and social content, information and knowledge. It has also been suggested that another fundamental difference between the two may be that cognitive intelligence depends primarily on the prefrontal cortex, whereas emotional and social intelligence is more limbically tactical for immediate behavior suited more for survival and adaptation However, thus far these theories are supported more by supposition than by empirical findings.” (my italics).

For their study the authors used 152 American Vietnam War veterans who had suffered brain damage from penetrating brain damage (shades of Phineas Gage). The authors used a comibination of neuro-imaging lesion analysis, IQ testing, and EQ testing to develop a model of where our emotional drives are located. The conclusion of the authors was that while historically, cognitive and emotional processes have been viewed as separate constructs their present study provides neuropsychological evidence that emotional and psychometric intelligence share neural systems and networks and that the orbitofrontal cortex plays a critical role.

This conclusion solves the problem of the location of the artistic drives noted above. It also supports the 7MTF/Humm Wadsworth model. This model proposes that our temperament is driven by our position on the spectrums of seven common mental illnesses (autism, depression, mania, neuroticism obsessive-compulsion, paranoia, and psychopathy) which would occur in the cerebral cortex and not the limbic system.


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